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Military Officials Given Broad New Power to Prosecute

June 25, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today gave military officials broad new power to prosecute members of the armed forces for crimes that are unrelated to military duty.

The 6-3 ruling said the Coast Guard may court-martial Richard Solorio on charges he sexually assaulted two young girls in Juneau, Alaska, while he was on active duty there.

The justices, overturning a 1969 Supreme Court ruling, said members of the armed forces may be tried for criminal offenses that have no connection to the military.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, in his opinion for the court, said broadening the military’s power in this fashion will help eliminate confusion over whether civilian or military courts have jurisdiction in many cases.

″Much time and energy has also been expended in litigation over juridictional factors, such as the status of the victim of the crime,″ he said.

″The notion that civil courts are ill-equipped to establish policies regarding matters of military concern is substantiated by experience,″ he added.

Justice Thurgood Marshall, in a dissenting opinion, said the ruling means millions of members of the armed forces ″can now be subjected to court- martial jurisdiction - without grand jury indictment or trial by jury - for any offense from tax fraud to passing a bad check regardless of its lack of relation to military discipline, morale and fitness.″

″The court’s action today reflects contempt, both for the members of our armed forces and for the constitutional safeguards intended to protect us all,″ said Marshall.

He was joined by Justices William J. Brennan and Harry A. Blackmun.

Solorio was on active duty in Juneau from 1982 to 1984. The city has no Coast Guard base or enclave where Coast Guard personnel reside and work, so Solorio was living in civilian housing.

He was charged with sexually assaulting the daughters of two other Coast Guard members who lived near him.

The girls were between 10 and 12 years of age when the offenses occurred.

Solorio was transferred by the Coast Guard to its Governors Island, N.Y., base in 1984. It was there Coast Guard officials learned of the Alaska allegations while investigating similar new charges against Solorio involving activities on the New York base.

A military judge dismissed the Alaska charges after finding a lack of jurisdiction to court-martial Solorio for those alleged offenses.

But the Coast Guard Court of Military Review reinstated the Alaska charges.

The Supreme Court today upheld the military review court.

Justice John Paul Stevens, in a separate concurring opinion, voted to uphold the military review court ruling but on narrow grounds. Stevens voted against overturning the Supreme Court 1969 ruling limiting court-martial powers.

The case is Solorio vs. U.S., 85-1581.

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